Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

4:00 pm

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Question 44: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the date on which he will bring proposals to the Government outlining a reparations scheme for women who were imprisoned in Magdalene Laundries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11865/11]

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to the House on this important issue. As many Members will know, I have long believed the issues raised by, or on behalf of, those women and girls who were resident in the Magdalene laundries must be fully investigated. I have great sympathy for the women concerned and want to help in bringing closure to this issue for the individuals concerned.

Senior officials from my Department previously met individuals who were resident in the laundries, with interest groups campaigning on their behalf. Their position is clearly understood and respected. My Department will continue to provide whatever assistance it can for individuals and groups seeking access to records which, it must be said, are, in many cases, poor and incomplete. It must also be said that there were many circumstances that led to women becoming resident in the laundries. Unfortunately, owing to the lapse of time and the lack of available records, there is a real difficulty in establishing the facts of what actually happened and the numbers involved. We know that there were ten Magdalene laundries in this jurisdiction which were privately run by four religious orders and predate the foundation of the State. It seems that the vast majority of females who entered or were placed in Magdalene laundries did so by private arrangements and without the direct involvement of the State. It was perhaps a sign of harsher times by today's standards, but it appears many of them entered owing to poverty, family or other circumstances.

As regards the criminal justice system, all of the available evidence at this stage suggests the number of women who entered such institutions through that system was small and that the periods of remand were for days rather than weeks or months. I am aware of only one such institution - St. Mary Magdalen's Asylum, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin - which was approved for use in October 1960 as a remand institution for female persons pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act 1960.

Like many Members, I read with interest the assessment published by the Human Rights Commission on 9 November 2010 of the request by the Justice for Magdalenes group to carry out an inquiry under section 9 of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 into the treatment of women and girls who resided in Magdalene laundries. It recommended that a statutory mechanism be established to investigate the matters advanced by Justice for Magdalenes and, in appropriate cases, to grant redress where warranted. The Human Rights Commission did not carry out the inquiry it was requested to carry out by the group. The assessment of the commission was the subject of an Adjournment debate in this House on the same evening. As outlined to the House in that debate, the assessment raises issues for a range of Departments, as well as for the four religious congregations which operated the Magdalene institutions.

My Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, the role of which is to provide legal advice, has prepared a draft submission for the Government on the matter which I am considering and which I anticipate bringing before the Government shortly. As I said in recent replies to previous questions, a comprehensive examination of the facts is required. With that in mind, I intend to advance proposals.

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister's statement on the preparation of the draft submission he plans to bring before the Government. Has he any timeline in mind?

Photo of Alan ShatterAlan Shatter (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Defence; Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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I expect to bring the matter before the Government by the end of the first week in June at the very latest, if not this month. I expect to be in a position to make certain announcements after my colleagues in government have had an opportunity to consider the matter. I hope matters will be advanced in a positive and helpful way as a consequence of the proposals that will be brought forward.